Thin Places

Hore Abbey website

Hore Abbey – Cashel, Ireland

Photography by D. Plasman

This is a place where travelers go to find God, Wisdom, Peace, Karma, Harmonic Convergence, or, as some prefer, the Infinite Whatever. The landscape of Ireland is dotted with centuries-old castles, abandoned abbeys, spirit-filled monasteries, and more cross-adorned cemeteries than you can visit in a ten-day trip.

The Hore Abbey is over 800 years old. Worship, study, and committee meetings don’t occur there anymore. It sits as an abandoned building, much like a deserted warehouse in an American city, minus the graffiti. During the two hours last November we spent strolling about, we were the only visitors. No one was there to collect an entrance fee. We met no security personnel. We were free to walk, sit or scale the walls. We left only because a crew came with lawn mowers and weed wackers to tidy up the grounds.

Someone on the travel site Trip Advisor called the Hore Abbey an “enjoyable gloomy wreck.” I’m guessing an American. More sensible visitors understand it to be a thin place. Thin places, as Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss, reminds us, are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or that which only can be described as transcendent.

The Bible identifies numerous thin places. The burning bush for Moses was such a place, as was Mt Sinai. Jesus, too, experienced places where the veil between heaven and earth was most sheer. The Mount of Transfiguration and the Garden of Gethsemane come to mind.

I hope to visit and photograph more thin places, but what I hope for most is that my life resembles a thin place – the place where heaven and earth touch, where the arc of God’s concern serves as the template of my own path.

It’s Lent, so I need not fear confessing that I’ve screwed up and messed up, copped out and caved in more times than I care to remember. St. Paul said it best: “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions . . . It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.”

At the end of a certain parable, Jesus tells a legal scholar (who initially raised the question: Who is my neighbor?) to follow the example of the altruistic Samaritan who came to the aid of the beaten man on the Jericho road. In my book Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, I conclude with this paragraph.

Rather than give specifics, Jesus leaves to us the task of working out the details. “Live like that.” How am I to be a neighbor? Is mercy one-size-fits-all? The answers for each of us won’t be the same. This much is certain: Like Jesus, we live by dying. We find our lives by losing them. Freedom comes when we give up control. We descend into greatness. When we do so for the least of these, we imitate Jesus. By showing mercy, we expand the ever-widening circle of God’s great compassion.

We become thin places in a world of thick walls.

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  1. Marge Vander Wagen February 14, 2016 at 7:04 pm #

    I think there are many “thin places” where heaven and earth are only a breath apart. We don’t expect for it to happen to us. We don’t ‘seek them. When we are in one, we don’t realize it:
    a mentor who gives advice which makes for peace,
    a calm and confident spirit while signing a contract,
    a wordless, quiet holding of a loved one’s hand.
    These are “thin places” where God reminds us how close He is.

  2. Mary Kansfield February 14, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

    Another beautiful piece!

  3. Dani Veenstra February 22, 2016 at 8:01 pm #


    Very cool posting. I preached about ‘Thin Places” this past Sunday and it resonated with people. My angle was that we don’t expect to encounter God, so most of the time we miss thin places and thin events. Expect God to be present and fill your dance card, because our Still Speaking God, still shows up.